‘Big’ News

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland & Salem Counties is pleased to announce the 2022 Big Brother of the Year—Matthew Johnson—and the 2022 Big Sister of the Year—Arlene Maggioncalda. The two have done great work as volunteers within the organization. Here are their amazing stories.

As an only child, Stjepen spent a lot of time alone before his mom decided to enroll him in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. This is where he was matched with Matt Johnson, a constant friend that Stjepen can trust, be an example for, and show Steepen what it means to set goals and go after your dreams.

“If I never had a Big like Matt in my life, I would never have done and experienced so many new things,” Stjepen said. “Mr. Matt is a dedicated hard worker. I have learned from him how to work hard for what I want.”

When Matt and Stjepen hang out, they go to sports games, museums, car and motorcycle shows, and have lunch together. Matt goes out of his way to make sure each experience creates a memory that Stjepen will remember fondly.

With Matt, Stjepen watched a 76ers game courtside, sat in fighter jets and watched them perform in the air, helped build homes for hard-working families, tried new and exciting foods, and played countless arcade and video games.

While the last couple of years have impacted the world in countless ways, Matt made sure not to let the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impact their bond. He has tried hard to make sure Stjepen continues to thrive in his teenage years. Matt celebrates Stjepen’s successes with him while addressing challenges as they come. When Stjepen turned 16, Matt rallied his friends, family, and the community to give Stjepen an amazing birthday party. He taught Stjepen the basics of how to drive a car and arranged for Stjepen to have lessons with a local driving school to make sure he was ready to get his drivers’ license at age 17. He even took him to the driver’s test, and Stjepen passed.

Stjepen is currently enrolled in the automotive program at his high school and hopes to become a mechanic one day. He knows he must work hard and be disciplined in order to find success. Matt’s support and advice have been transformative and their bond is now more like family.

Stjepen’s mom said, “Since Mr. Matt became his Big Brother, Stjepen has had more to look forward to. Mr. Matt has been a blessing to my son as well as to me. He has been there for my son for birthdays, holidays, and school functions like choir and band concerts. I see Mr. Matt as part of our family.

“Mr. Matt continues to help my son as he grows into adulthood. He has shown my son the importance of working for something that he wants. He has also taught my son that volunteering in the community and giving back is rewarding.”

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Just over 10 years ago, Arlene Maggioncalda was matched with Trinity in the school-based Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland & Salem Counties program, and they have been friends ever since. Arlene has continued to offer guidance and support through the years and is looking forward to many years of friendship and growth to come.

The first year, Arlene and Trinity met first thing in the morning at school and at lunchtime, developing a tight bond. By the next summer, Arlene and Trinity expanded their match to include visits outside of school so they could do more together. Arlene taught Trinity how to establish boundaries and how to appropriately interact with classmates and friends, leading to a spike in self-confidence. As Trinity changed schools and moved around, Arlene continued to take her to lunches and dinners. They spent days at the beach and went shopping together. By December 2016, Arlene and Trinity’s match moved to Community Based Mentoring since they could no longer meet at school. Arlene continued to support Trinity in her academics and offered advice as she navigated middle school and began the transition to high school. Trinity has become more confident and maintains an after-school job.

Trinity shared, “She [Arlene] has taught me how to handle the things that are out of my control. I have learned to take a step back to think about my situation and control my emotions in a positive way. Arlene encourages me to go and be myself around people. My future is still uncertain, but I do know one thing: Arlene will be there, and she will support me through it all.”

Trinity’s mother has always encouraged Trinity’s friendship with Arlene. She is happy that Trinity could get out of the house to do fun things. “She [Trinity] continues to weigh her options for her future, and Arlene helps point her in the right direction. She supports what I am trying to teach Trinity and pushes Trinity in a good way. Trinity can talk to her about things she does not want to talk to me about, and I am glad Trinity has her.”

Arlene believes that she has made a difference in Trinity’s life and shares that Trinity has had a positive impact on her life as well. “We have had many conversations about asking for help when she needs it. Trinity is resilient, kind, and caring, she will always be a part of our family.”

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Mentors Needed: Virtual Program for High Schoolers

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cumberland & Salem Counties (BBBS) Mentor2.0 program has 50 new students waiting for a mentor. Mentor2.0 pairs high school juniors with career professionals or college-educated mentors to offer students advice and support during this pivotal time in their lives.

Leah Sadler, program manager at BBBS says that students are often so busy with schoolwork, working, and helping at home that they don’t have time to think about what happens after high school. This program offers guidance for students to leave high school with a plan and a champion to help them do so.

Are you a career professionals with life experience to offer a local student? Consider this virtual program as an opportunity to invest in the future of a student and our community. Visit southjerseybigs.imentor.org or contact Leah Sadler at 856-692-0916 or lsadler@southjerseybigs.org.

Online Edition